El Salvador Cracked Down on Gang Activity and Crime, so How Did the Biden Administration Respond?

AP Photo/Salvador Melendez, File

One of the refrains we hear from the Biden administration when it comes to illegal immigration is that we need to solve the source problems that drive migrants from Central and South America and lead them to enter this country illegally.


One Latin American leader is doing just that: El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele.

Voters swept the then-38-year-old businessman into the presidency in 2019 along with his Nuevas Ideas, a populist, centrist party. In 2022, 100 people died at the hands of gangs over a three-day period, so Bukele decided to do something about it. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote at Compact about El Salvador’s incredible transformation from a nation that was eaten up with gang violence to a peaceful society.

President Bukele announced a state of emergency and directed the military to round up the gangs. The military did just that. This wasn’t about arresting a few low-level thugs or a handful of gang leaders to make a statement. Virtually all dangerous criminals in the country found themselves swept up. In the words of local news media, the gangs now “do not exist.”

It takes more than arrests to restore law and order, but it’s hard to overstate how much things have improved. Children play on soccer fields that were once whizzing with bullets. Families go out at night without fear of being murdered and mutilated. Businesses sell their wares, no protection money required. In short, people are free and flourishing. No wonder President Bukele’s approval rating is approaching 90 percent.


Bukele boasts on social media how El Salvador’s murder rate has plummeted with tweets like, “Another day passes without homicides in El Salvador and no one in the ‘international community’ responded to the challenge of showing us a single security plan, anywhere in the world, with better results. Maybe they’ll show it tomorrow… Once they show it, we’ll switch to that one.”

It’s easy to imagine that such a success story that helps relieve the scourge of illegal immigration at its source would have gotten the attention of the Biden administration. One would think that the White House would fall in love with a nation that has gotten its crime under control and raised the standard of living of its citizens.

Unfortunately, we’re talking about the Biden administration here — where everything that makes sense gets turned upside down.


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Instead of thanking Bukele and his government, the White House slapped sanctions on members of the El Salvadoran government, accusing it of corruption. Both the administration and some conservatives have called Bukele a tyrant. And while it’s true that Bukele isn’t exactly a conservative, what he’s done to curb gang activity in his nation is laudable. The Biden administration’s reaction to it is telling as well.

“Simply put, the left is so allergic to law enforcement that it would rather see Barrio 18 and MS-13 roaming the streets than criminals locked up,” Rubio wrote, adding, “It’s hypocritical, because Democrats had no problem with using emergency powers to shut down the entire economy during the pandemic.”

To treat the Bukele administration the way the White House is treating it runs the risk of sending a potential friend and ally into the orbit of China and Russia. The administration has done that enough; we can’t afford to alienate too many more nations in our neighborhood.

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